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  • Marshall Islands
  • Monica C Labriola (bio)

For the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the period under review saw the passing of a number of distinguished traditional leaders, public servants, and community members. Ruben Zackhras died in early January 2019 following a public service career that spanned more than four decades. Elected to nine consecutive terms as senator for Aelōn̄ļapļap Atoll between 1979 and 2015, Zackhras was among the longest serving members of the Nitijeļā (Parliament). Prior to becoming a senator, he was elected delegate and then president of the Marshall Islands' first Constitutional Convention in 1977, where he led the effort to develop and pass the constitution for [End Page 201] the newly independent Republic of the Marshall Islands. Zackhras also served in numerous cabinet positions over the years and was most recently RMI ambassador to Fiji (mij, 4 Jan 2019).

In May 2019, the Marshall Islands lost Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Secretary Bruce Kijiner. Prior to that appointment, Kijiner held numerous government posts with the Republic of the Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Works, Infrastructure, and Utilities, the RMI Embassy in Fiji, and the Majuro [Mājro] Atoll Local Government. Kijiner's father, Thomas Kijiner Sr, is a former senator for Likiep Atoll and the current ambassador to Japan. His brother Thomas Kijiner Jr is first gentleman (mij, 14 June 2019).

Tomaki Juda, former senator and mayor of Pikinni (Bikini) Atoll and speaker and vice speaker of the Nitijeļā, also passed away during this period. One of the last surviving ri-Pikinni ("ri-" means person/people of/from) displaced by the United States in 1946 in preparation for nuclear weapons testing, Juda served as mayor of Pikinni for three decades starting in 1972 and as Pikinni senator from 2000 to 2015. In those roles, he led delegations of ri-Pikinni to Washington DC to testify and negotiate with US government leaders, worked with lawyers to file lawsuits calling on the United States to conduct a comprehensive radiological study after residents were prematurely returned to the irradiated atoll in the early 1970s, and helped secure almost us$200 million in nuclear compensation from the United States for the people of Pikinni as part of the Compact of Free Association (cofa) and the Resettlement Trust Fund for the People of Bikini [Pikinni] (KBE Trust Fund) (mij, 19 Oct 2018). (KBE stands for Kili/Bikini/Ejit [Kōle/Pikinni/Ājej], with Kōle Island and Ājej Island being the two longest-standing Pikinni resettlement sites.)

Among the other prominent leaders and members of the community who died during this period was Juaer Loeak, longtime mayor of Aelōn̄ļapļap Atoll and brother of Iroojļapļap [Paramount Chief] Kotak Loeak and former President Christopher Loeak (mij, 24 May 2019). The Reverend Enja Enos, president of the Marshall Islands United Church of Christ and Nitijeļā chaplain, died at his home in Hilo, Hawai'i, in March 2019 and was returned to Mājro for burial (mij 15 March, 12 April 2019). Arthur Kaylor Kaukon, one of the founders and lead moderators for Kewan Jela, a private Facebook group that has "transformed the nature of Marshallese political debate" as the "go-to platform for debate on important issues," also passed away (mij, 15 Feb 2019). According to the group's page in July 2019, Kewan Jela's mission is "to provide or raise public awareness on political issues, social issues and economics [sic] issues that affect [Mar-shall Islanders]." Since its inception in 2013, the site has gained exponential popularity among Marshall Islanders and others living in the islands and the diaspora, with almost twenty thousand members as of July 2019.

This period also saw developments on several key issues outlined in last year's review for the RMI (LaBriola 2019). These include the results of the 2017 Constitutional Convention, the [End Page 202] RMI's position on the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (tpnw), debates around the adoption of a digital decentralized cryptocurrency as legal tender, mounting opposition to the elimination of postal voting for Marshall Islanders living abroad, and ongoing concerns related to the Marshall Islands Trust Fund...